Junior Vinny Rotondo was awarded the Newman Civic Fellowship for his program Recycling for Refugees on Jan. 31. After a competitive application process to this national fellowship program, he is excited about the opportunities the fellowship offers for the future of his program. 

Rotondo’s program “brings awareness to the refugee crisis, not necessarily just in the United States but world wide” and even “right here in Connecticut.”

He says that Recycling for Refugees “is essentially a collection drive of furniture.” 

Rotondo’s program allows Fairfield University students to recycle furniture that they are not using and donate it at the end of the school year. The furniture is then collected and used to furnish refugee homes, provided to them by “a program called CIRI, The Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants.”

Rotondo was particularly inspired to take action after taking global engagement courses with Associate Director for Humanitarian Action in the Center for Social Impact Julie Mughal, Ph.D. and Humanitarian Action Professor Christopher Madden, Ph.D. They are also advisors to his program. 

Specifically, Rotondo took the “global engagement course through the Honors program” with Mughal, in which he “really enjoyed learning about different displaced people, and learning about their struggles,” “gaining that basic awareness of all corners of the earth.”

Having enjoyed Mughal’s class, Rotondo took a “Refugee Literature” course with her later on, where he “studied different novels written or told by refugees, about their journey.” In this course specifically, Rotondo says he “fell in love with their stories.” 

Rotondo recalls writing a journal entry for class, where he toyed with the idea of starting a furniture drive for struggling refugees after the class watched an eye-opening video on the subject. When he turned it in, Mughal “wrote back” to him, and the two got started with the project.

Rotondo considered the fact that “we are at a Jesuit institution”, saying, “we should be of service to others.” Upon reflection, he asked himself how he can get his community involved to help. Ultimately, this motivated him to launch Recycling for Refugees.

Rotondo received a $500 grant through the Newman Civic Fellowship, which he hopes will “help execute the project” by compensating fees for “the storage unit, the moving van or transportation.” 

The fellowship will also include an opportunity to meet with other winners from different universities around the country, allowing them to convene and present their projects. The venue will be at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston, Mass. 

Michaela Grenier, the program manager for the Newman Civic Fellowship Conference, says that the conference “provide[s] a variety of programming focused on helping students build skills for collaborating across lines of difference or for effectively engaging in cross partisan work.” Further, students model “the role of a senator in a historic congress”, and all of their programming at the event is focused toward “civic learning and collaboration skills.”

Next year Rotondo says he “will be published for an article […] about the project,” and “will also speak at the Research Symposium at Fairfield.”

Rotondo is considering “partnering with the Art department” and potentially having the department “make a gallery […] to illustrate what [the program] has done.” 

Rotondo says he may “donate some little pieces that aren’t approved for donation and put them on a landscape.” 

Ultimately, he hopes this potential partnership will “bring awareness that this project exists on our campus” and “get it to continue after [he] leaves Fairfield.”

Interestingly, this program had formerly been executed at Fairfield, however, it fizzled out when its primary leader graduated. Considering this history, Rotondo is concerned with “making it stick” after he graduates from Fairfield.

He is hopeful that the program will continue to succeed, however, citing the recent influx of refugees in the United States. Rotondo believes that this new demand for refugee support, in part, will help the program to continue to thrive even after he graduates next year. 

In response to this growing need for action, Rotondo encourages students to get involved with Recycling for Refugees. He says that “student involvement will get started toward the end of the semester,” most likely during reading days before final exams. 

Rotondo encourages students interested in participating in the program to reach out to him using his email vincent.rotondo@student.fairfield.edu


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